21 Nicest Small Towns in America Everyone Should Visit Before They’re 50
Consider this an ode to knowing your neighbors, having the baristas at the coffee shop know your order by heart, and seeing everyone come together to root for the local high school football team on weekends. These are our finest quaint communities—the best small towns in America.
One of the original major cities of the Gold Rush, Jacksonville was founded in the early 1850s by pioneers hoping to strike it rich. The entire town, which has a population of about 2,800, was designated as a U.S. National Landmark in the 1960s, so it’s definitely worth visiting, especially if you’re a history buff. Jacksonville is home to over 100 National Historical buildings sprinkled throughout the community in the heart of Oregon’s wine country and surrounded by gorgeous greenery, so there really is something for everyone. Insider tip: Consider staying in one of the incredibly adorable family-owned bed and breakfasts or inns for an extra small-town feel. We’re told they offer exceptional service and amazing dinning options. Plus, check out the most charming small-town bed and breakfast in every state.
Traverse City, Michigan
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Traverse City is the ultimate outdoor and water activities destination. In the warmer months, you’ll find everyone hiking and biking the numerous trails and participating in the most popular recreational water sports—kayaking, fishing, windsurfing, and paddleboarding. There’s also golfing and bird watching for those who are looking for a more leisurely vacation. July is an especially busy month in Traverse City, as it’s when hundreds of thousands of visitors come in for the National Cherry Festival (the city boasts being the largest producer of tart cherries in the country). And the many farm-to-table dining options, breweries, wineries, and distilleries make it a destination worth visiting even in the winter.
Besides its famous gorgeous red rock geography—which is truly a jaw-dropping natural wonder, Sedona is known for its eclectic art scene, near-perfect weather, and of course, fantastic cuisine and wineries. Sedona truly has it all, whether you’re looking for a girl’s spa weekend, an outdoor family excursion-based trip, or a romantic getaway. Spend a day exploring the 200 plus miles of hiking trails or browsing the local handmade craft shops. You can even enjoy an aerial view of the town via hot air balloon, a widely popular activity, especially with a wine glass in hand. The best part of Sedona? There’s really no bad time to visit because events like art festivals, concerts, and food tastings happen year-round thanks to the fabulous warm weather. Here are some more great small town getaways you’ll want to book ASAP.
If you’ve got a week or two to spare, consider heading outside of the continental U.S. to Lahaina, Maui. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Lahaina is an historic little town with a population of less than 12,000. The town has a prime oceanfront location just south of the famous K’anapali coast, which boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and is home to Maui’s only walkable “downtown” area, lined with shops, eateries, and bars. You can expect lots of gorgeous sunshine-filled days and a dry and mild climate in Lahaina, which is probably why the town is often called “Lele,” meaning “relentless sun” in Hawaiian. And since Lahaina centers around one of Hawaii’s busiest harbors, you can travel among the other islands via ferry for a small fee.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Arkansas isn’t on many people’s radar when it comes to vacation destinations, but Eureka Springs is a small town that shouldn’t be missed. Nicknamed “The Little Switzerland of America” and “The Stairstep Town,” Eureka Springs is a tiny Victorian town nestled in the Ozark Mountains. While the entire city is less than seven square miles, there’s plenty to do and see, like browsing the more than 100 local shops and galleries, visiting historical buildings such as the Thorncrown Chapel, or exploring the underground onyx cave parks. After a busy day, try out one of the town’s multiple award-winning restaurants that serve everything from Indian to Czech-German to Mediterranean fare. Consider heading to the Indian restaurant for dinner and the Czech-German for dessert! Check out America’s best small-town festivals.
About three hours south of our nation’s capitol lies the city of Williamsburg, a tiny town that played a major role in our country’s history. Williamsburg is almost always a stop on every school’s eighth grade Washington D.C. trip, and for good reason. Founded in 1632, the city was the capitol of the colony of Virginia for nearly 80 years. Williamsburg is the ultimate history buff’s paradise, centered around Colonial Williamsburg, a living-history museum where you’ll see what life was like in the 18th century. You’ll find people dressed in colonial clothing, cobblestone streets lined with blacksmiths and candle makers, and maybe you’ll even catch a ghost tour or witness a witch trial.
Settled nearly 10,000 years ago, and once considered Russian territory, Sitka has a rich history and gorgeous geography. Previously named “New Arkhangeisk” or New Archangel, Sitka is a major cruise ship destination that draws tens of thousands of visitors every year. This Baranof Island city and borough is located seaside right on the Pacific Ocean, so there’s plenty of outdoor activities like freshwater fishing, whale watching, hunting, kayaking, and hiking. The nearby Sitka National Historic Park is a great place to brush up on your Russian American history and catch a glimpse of the bald eagles soaring through the sky. Those feeling really adventurous and up for a challenge can hike Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano with an elevation of 3,200 feet. The seafood is excellent and fresh, so seafood lovers will definitely want to try the local cuisine.
Taos, New Mexico
If adobe buildings and Native American culture are of interest to you, you’ll definitely need to spend some time in Taos. The city prides itself on being an “art colony, a world-class ski resort, an ancient community and land of Earthships.” There’s almost everything you could ever possibly want to see and do in this small town. The Taos Pueblo, a community favorite and must-see site, is a living Native American community located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. Just be respectful when visiting, as around 150 people still call the Taos Pueblo home today. There are different activities depending on the season, so plan before you go. In the warmer months, visitors can enjoy balloon rides, hot springs, and river rafting, while the winter offers skiing galore. Find out the best-kept secret in every state.
Beaufort, South Carolina
If you’ve ever watched the legendary movie Forrest Gump, you’ve already seen parts of one of the best small towns in America: Beaufort, South Carolina. As the second-oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort is known for its antebellum mansions and historic downtown district. Since Beaufort is located right on Port Royal Island, there are a ton of popular water sports like fishing and boating, in addition to wonderful, fresh seafood. The city is also known as one of America’s best art towns thanks to its array of museums, film festivals, and art galleries. Bay Street is Beaufort’s main road that borders the harbor where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and local shops.
Cormorant is often overlooked when there are roundups of the best small towns in America, but it should definitely make your list for one reason: The town’s mayor for the past three years has been a beloved 9-year-old Great Pyrenee named Duke. Yes, you read that correctly, the town has a dog for its mayor. The entire town is less than 37 square miles and has a population of around 1,000, but it’s a beautiful place to relax and enjoy some quiet time. Once you meet the mayor, check out the numerous nearby lakes and get to know the locals. On the other side of the pond, learn about the charming small towns in Europe that you need to see.